What’s the deal with digital vaccine passports?

California has a new digital vaccine card, while New York uses the Excelsior Pass. Neither may matter if vaccination rates continue to rise.


June 28, 2021

The Excelsior vaccine passport (Source: Chris Delmas / Getty Images)

When Americans get their COVID-19 vaccine, they get a paper card that, as John Oliver points out, doesn’t fit in any standard wallet.

A digital card might be easier, but it’s a little tricky due to political conflict and other concerns.

In a March press briefing, White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeffrey Zients said any vaccine credentialing system must be…

… simple, free, open source, and protect privacy

It also needs to be accessible — meaning both digitally and on paper for those without smartphones.

California’s new digital vaccine cards could work, thanks to the open source Smart Health Cards Framework developed by The Commons Project (TCP), per TechCrunch.

How it works:

  • Smart Health Cards come from pharmacies, doctors, or state immunization registries.
  • You can save it on your phone or print it. It contains the same info as the CDC card, accessible via QR code (hard to lose and easily shareable).

But do we need them?

There’s a lot of debate about whether businesses, schools, and organizations can or should require proof of vaccination. A Kentucky bill might ban it. Pennsylvanian House Republicans want to. Florida has already banned mandatory vaccine passports.

New York’s voluntary Excelsior Pass — run by IBM — has been downloaded by ~2m people and grants quick entry to various venues. It may also cost taxpayers $17m — $14.5m more than the state initially claimed.

But most importantly, passes might become obsolete as vaccination rates rise. Until then, here’s a listicle of the best vaccine card protectors.

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